TO BE HOMELESS IN THE LAND OF THE FREE AND THE HOME OF THE BRAVE
By Lonnie Walker
According to the HRSA Public Service Act, A homeless individual is defined in section 330(h)(5)(A) as “an individual who lacks housing (without regard to whether the individual is a member of a family), including an individual whose primary residence during the night is a supervised public or private facility (e.g., shelters) that provides temporary living accommodations, and an individual who is a resident in transitional housing.” A homeless person is an individual without permanent housing who may live on the streets; stay in a shelter, mission, single room occupancy facilities, abandoned building or vehicle; or in any other unstable or non-permanent situation. [Section 330 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C., 254b)] …A recognition of the instability of an individual’s living arrangements is critical to the definition of homelessness. (HRSA/Bureau of Primary Health Care, Program Assistance Letter 99-12, Health Care for the Homeless Principles of Practice)
Homelessness, as most people see it, are your men and women on the street begging, smelly and sleeping on the park bench. Ask yourself this question – “Does anyone really choose to be homeless?”
In 2016, it was reported that 564,708 people in the United States are homeless on any given day. At least the ones that were counted. When we talk about youth, 550,000 unaccompanied, single youth and young adults under the age of 24 experienced a homelessness episode of longer than one week in 2016. More than half-million youth in America are still homeless.
You might ask yourself if this is a dream. To these youth, it is reality. When you consider LQBTQ/SGL youth and youth of color, it is a staggering number of 110,000. This is one of the most vulnerable homeless populations. A substantial number of young people who identify as LGBTQ/SGL say that they live in a community or family that is not accepting of their lifestyle. In fact, LGBTQ/SGL youth make up 40% of runaway kids across the country. Reasons like Family rejection, abuse, and neglect are major reasons LGBTQ/SGL youth end up on the streets. Additionally, homeless LGBTQ/SGL youth are, substantially more likely than heterosexual homeless youth, to be victims of sexual assault and abuse. LGBTQ/SGL homeless youth are twice as likely to commit suicide compared to heterosexual homeless youth. Thanks to the Ballroom scene, many of these youths have found protection and family amongst each other.
Here in Baltimore, we see youth homelessness first hand through our nonprofit program, JOY Baltimore, which serves homeless, runaway and displaced youth ages 13-24. SGL/LGBTQ youth are our primary focus. Despite limited funding, we help youth find permanent housing, food, clothing, hygiene supplies, mental health or just an ear to talk with. JOY is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and meets our youth wherever they are. If we do not deal with their immediate needs, we cannot help them with anything else.
Our youth are very resourceful, and they did not ask for the cards that life has dealt them. If we, as adults and providers are not assisting them in their time of need, they will truly become the next adult homeless population. Yes, there is a shortage of resources in every city throughout the US to address this issue. We have always believed that before we provide resources to other countries to resolve their poverty issues, we must clean up our own problems at home.
JOY Baltimore has worked with several youth in the Baltimore area as part of our goal is to help end youth homelessness. We believe in empowering youth to be their own best advocate for their needs. One of our youth expressed, ” I’m homeless, but I still have an opinion” -TM. Despite their current circumstances, they still have a voice that deserves to be heard.
This year, JOY Baltimore is having out first Thanksgiving Celebration on Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 2017 to feed runaway, homeless and displaced youth. It is a free event with music, dancing, food, haircuts, and much, much, more. This will take place at GLCCB 2530 N. Charles Street, 3rd Floor, in Baltimore MD, from 1-5pm.
“These are all our children. We will profit by, or pay for whatever they become.”
– James Baldwin
Lonnie Walker is a native of Brooklyn, NY, a graduate of Shaw University, and the founder of JOY Baltimore, a non-profit that provides services for disadvantaged and runaway homeless youth in Baltimore. @JOYBALTIMORE.ORG